The Death of Recent Myths

There was an illusion, oh sometime around 14 years ago during the reign of Bill Clinton that certain behaviors by leaders no longer mattered, that we could parse one’s ‘private life’ (usually meaning one’s sexual proclivities) from one’s public performance. Of course, that was in the midst of the last economic boom, and many were willing to trade integrity in their leaders for some cash in their pockets.

But the times change, particularly when so many pockets are empty. The recent spate of high level adulterous affairs hasn’t been met with the same yawning indifference that Clinton’s was. Jonathan Edwards, Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer and now of course General Petraeus and General George Allen have all garnered resignations and reprobation. This is particularly the case in the latter two, given these men fell not only under the ethical considerations of political leaders (presuming some exist) but the auspices of military regulations as well. Perhaps the thought of our Generals engaging in sexual dalliances while boys die on battlefields is too much even for our promiscuous culture.

This is one of the great divides when Christians and secularists speak about ‘morality’. Atheists are fond of saying that Christians have no corner on morality, that one doesn’t need to believe in God to be good. More recently they seek to demonstrate this by highly publicized works of charity in order to demonstrate they can ‘be good without God’. When saying that, they are defining the ‘good’ to be those behaviors that have outward effects, not necessarily those behaviors traditionally understood to be good in Western society and by Christians. Adultery is one such behavior that seems to fall outside of the atheist prevue of morality.

New Atheist Richard Dawkins made this exceedingly clear in his essay on the subject, Banishing the Green-Eyed Monster . As he boldly asks:

Why are we so obsessed with monogamous fidelity in the first place? Agony Aunt columns ring with the cries of those who have detected — or fear — that their man/woman (who may or may not be married to them) is “cheating on them”. “Cheating” really is the word that occurs most readily to these people. The underlying presumption — that a human being has some kind of property rights over another human being’s body — is unspoken because it is assumed to be obvious. But with what justification?

—————————————————————————————

Assuming that such practical matters as sexually transmitted diseases and the paternity of children can be sorted out (and nowadays DNA testing will clinch that for you if you are sufficiently suspicious, which I am not), what, actually, is wrong with loving more than one person? Why should you deny your loved one the pleasure of sexual encounters with others, if he or she is that way inclined?

Given his casual indifference to marital vows I guess we shouldn’t be surprised there have been three Mrs. Dawkins – he appears to be, to paraphrase the character Ian Malcom from Jurassic Park, “always on the lookout for a future ex-Mrs. Dawkins”.

Dawkins’ assurances aside, adultery obviously has many victims. There are the bereaved spouses, the loss of trust in a community, and not least of all the pain of any children that might be involved. In the case of General Petreaus there was the opening of himself to blackmail and the communication of sensitive information, not to mention the damage to the trust the public had invested in him as the head of one of the most important national security agencies. If not in reality, people in powerful positions convey the perception of coercing those with less power into relationships with them.

For the Christian of course there is no distinction between public and private morality. Morality for the Christian is primarily an offense against God and His intended purposes for human life. In fact being moral for public purposes is considered hypocrisy, as Jesus plainly teaches concerning the Pharisees of His day:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. – Matthew 23:27-28

For a Christian being moral isn’t merely about what one does in public, but what one is when the public isn’t watching. At least for now our society, if not secularists, appears to agree with this standard.

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9 Responses to The Death of Recent Myths

  1. Mike D says:

    Dawkins is not advocating infidelity, Einstein. He’s talking about polyamory. And please. Let’s stop equating liberalism with secularism, or pretending like Christian conservatives are paragons of moral virtue.

  2. jackhudson says:

    Mike, you make it difficult for me to take you seriously when you obviously don’t even read the material being discussed. In the first two sentences Dawkins addresses the question he is considering:

    “”Is sex outside of marriage a sin? Is it a public matter? Is it forgivable?”

    He then goes on to discuss Clinton and others who had sexual relations outside of marriage. He specifically mentions adultery, he never says the word polyamory. So if you want to make a serious point, you have to actually comprehend the point being made to begin with. Good luck with that.

    Oh, and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. Gosh Jack, that’s weird because there’s an addendum on the article where Dawkins says,

    I am not advocating a promiscuously swinging lifestyle, and I am not advocating deception and lying in personal relationships.

    And then…

    Sex is the one area where violent jealousy is conventionally thought virtuous. I was just pointing out the oddity, not saying it is inexplicable and not even, necessarily, condemning it — although I would personally like to rise above it, and I think the sum total of happiness would be raised if we could manage it.

    …Which is exactly what polyamory attempts to do, as wonderfully detailed in the blog Polyskeptic. So maybe you should try to “actually comprehend the point”.

    Btw, I’m curious…

    What is the divorce rate of non-believers vs. Christians?
    What states have the highest viewership of pornography?

    Google that and get back to me about how righteous you Christians are.

  4. jackhudson says:

    …Which is exactly what polyamory attempts to do, as wonderfully detailed in the blog Polyskeptic. So maybe you should try to “actually comprehend the point”.

    While gullible sycophants might take his after the fact “Oh, I didn’t really mean what I said now that I see I have upset so many people” addendum to change the character of what he plainly did say, the person of average intelligence won’t buy it. He said absolutely nothing about polyandry, and plainly referred to two cases of adultery (Clinton’s and Chris Tarrant’s) as examples of the sort of relationships we should accept.

    But let’s all pretend to be naïve and assume he was talking about polyandry after all despite never mentioning the word. How is polyandry more morally defensible than plain adultery? How does it alleviate the aforementioned harms of adultery? How would polyandry be substantively different than a “promiscuously swinging lifestyle”? And if it were, why would one be morally preferable to the other? Of course neither he, nor you can answer that, nor do you desire to since the main motivation of adolescent men is to serve their own selfish desires, not create a better society.

    And as Dawkins himself makes clear, people don’t readily accept their spouse sleeping around with others – which he assumes to be an artifact of evolution he encourages us to rise above. Of course, every aspect of human nature in his purview is the product of incidental natural processes, and so it is nonsensical to suggest we ‘rise above it’ any more than we could rise above being composed of atoms.

    What is the divorce rate of non-believers vs. Christians?
    What states have the highest viewership of pornography?
    Google that and get back to me about how righteous you Christians are.

    While I appreciate that like many atheists you are a master of the Red Herring (amongst other logical fallacies), it’s fairly well established you aren’t a master of statistics. But numbers are hard for some, so I will break it down.

    First highest and lowest states by ‘religiosity’

    Most Religious states:

    1. Mississippi
    2. Utah
    3. Alabama
    4. Louisiana
    5. Arkansas

    Least Religious states:
    1. Vermont
    2. New Hampshire
    3. Maine
    4. Massachusetts
    5. Alaska

    The five highest and lowest states by subscriptions to pornography per/1000 people:

    Subscription to pornography per/1000 people

    Highest:
    1. Utah 1.69
    2. Hawaii 1.37
    3. Alaska 1.15
    4. Maryland 1.11
    5. Nevada 1.11

    Lowest:
    46. Kentucky 0.60
    47. Mississippi 0.59
    48. Arkansas 0.58
    49. South Dakota 0.55
    50. West Virginia 0.50

    Obviously with the exception of one outlier – Mormon Utah – the most religious states are amongst the lowest consumers of pornography. And many of the least religious like Nevada and Alaska happen to be amonst the highest consumers of pornography. So you first intimation fails.

    As far as divorce goes, it’s a bit more complex:

    Divorce Rates by state:

    Highest by state:
    Nevada 5.9
    Arkansas 5.7
    Idaho 5.2
    Wyoming 5.1
    West Virginia 5.1
    Oklahoma 5.2

    Lowest by state:
    Iowa 2.4
    Massachusetts 2.5
    Illinois 2.6
    Maryland 2.8
    Connecticut 2.9

    In this case we see a number of irreligious states at the top of the stats with a few ‘religious’ states thrown in. The same at the bottom holds true. The correlation isn’t clear at all, if there is one at all. In fact looking at maps shows us the resulsts are…all over the map.

    Now I agree the divorce rates of nominal Christians are disappointing, but to be quite frank, I don’t believe a person will enjoy any benefits to their marriage just by calling themselves a Christian. Also a state by state comparison isn’t very useful for determining what people actually believe.

    But for those that self-identify as Evangelicals, the divorce rate is 26% compared with the 30% of atheists and agnostics. And for Christians that are devoted (that is, regular church attenders, or engaged in practicing their faith at home through prayer) there is a significant positive impact on the strength of marriages.

    So though it has nothing to do with the actual point of my post (that their is a significant divide between Christians and New Atheists with regard to the morality of adultery) the stats show that for devout (practicing, faithful, involved Christians) their is a significant difference between their marital experience and that of the unbeliever, presuming the unbeliever has any interest in marriage at all, which they don’t in increasing numbers.

  5. You do realize that the arguments against polygamy/polyandry are no more specifically religious or Christian any more so than the arguments for being a vegetarian are, right? They can’t be (unless you wish to indict most of the Old Testament patriarchs of obstinate and unrepentant sinfulness). In fact, depending on the circumstances, it could have been a moral duty in the form of levirate marriage (Deut 25:5-6).

    Those who most support the practice are not generally secular atheists but religious fundamentalists (such as a minority of Mormons and, more noticeably, Muslims).

    In terms of the morality of religious versus non-religious thought, I would say that the best of the Christian ideals transcend the best that other religions and secular philosophies have to offer I’m not sure whether it plays out that way in the lives of the people who profess the Christian faith, however. Are Christians, on average, better than Buddhists, Muslims or atheists? I don’t know. I’d rather live in a fundamentalist area of Alabama than Pakistan, but I’d also feel safer in China than in John Calvin’s Geneva.

  6. jackhudson says:

    You do realize that the arguments against polygamy/polyandry are no more specifically religious or Christian any more so than the arguments for being a vegetarian are, right? They can’t be (unless you wish to indict most of the Old Testament patriarchs of obstinate and unrepentant sinfulness). In fact, depending on the circumstances, it could have been a moral duty in the form of levirate marriage (Deut 25:5-6).

    Well again, this is a red herring; we are discussing adultery. Even if your characterization of polygamy in the Bible were correct (and it’s not as I will point out in a moment) polygamy is not adultery, and it’s not polyandary. So this argument is irrelevant in the current discussion.

    Nonetheless, while polygamy is certainly chronicled in Scripture it is never held out as the ideal. The original design of marriage is consistent from Genesis to the Gospels – “the two will become one flesh” – it is an emotionally, spiritually and physically bonding experience between two people that is unique to the relationship between a man and a woman for the purpose of generating a single unique family unit for procreative purposes. While the passage passage in Deuteronomy might be held out as an exception under Israel’s civil dictates (and I would say that is unclear at best, even unlikely) it in no way could be understood to contradict the ideal proscribed in Scripture.

    In terms of the morality of religious versus non-religious thought, I would say that the best of the Christian ideals transcend the best that other religions and secular philosophies have to offer I’m not sure whether it plays out that way in the lives of the people who profess the Christian faith, however. Are Christians, on average, better than Buddhists, Muslims or atheists? I don’t know. I’d rather live in a fundamentalist area of Alabama than Pakistan, but I’d also feel safer in China than in John Calvin’s Geneva.

    Really? Because the biggest number of deaths attributed to Calvin’s government is around 60. China executes 4000 people a year. Of course, China may be reforming significantly thanks to…John Calvin.

    Nonetheless, the Western society that sprang from Christianity that we now inhabit and enjoy is the most peaceful and prosperous to ever exist. So we can objectively say the best of Christian ideals transcend the best other religions and secular philosophies have to offer, and not only because of the ideals themselves but because Christ has the power to transform a life, which eventually transforms families, communities and nations.

  7. Tristan Vick says:

    You forgot to mention Dinesh D’Souza.

  8. jackhudson says:

    Sure, the same rules apply to him. Though obviously had he been a secular President at a secular college, his actions would have been no big deal to the likes of Dawkins.

  9. subayaitori says:

    Nor should they be. His personal business is his own.

    It’s none of my business.

    None of yours.

    Unless he was having an affair with a student… in which case that would become the public’s concern.

    But maybe he did fall in and out of love that easily. Who knows? It’s not my place to even care about anyone’s personal life but my own–unless they’re personal habits cause harm to others–then it would be a public concern.

    But all we have is a guy doing what most guys do. It’s not even that shocking. But so many people are acting shocked about it.

    Big whoop.

    Maybe it is because Christians have this ideal of absolutes even in terms of fidelity that it becomes a “big deal.”

    You’re right, a secular college wouldn’t have blown it out of proportion. They would have minded their own business and nothing would have ever come of it.

    It seems the only reason D’Souza got canned was the fact that he was a Christian.

    Sort of sad actually.

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